Improving English Language Learners' Academic Vocabulary

(all contents/ESL, grades 9-12)

Kenneth McKee
High School Literacy Coach, Buncombe County Schools


This study's goal was to determine effective instructional strategies for improving the general academic (Tier 2) vocabulary of English Language Learners. Vocabulary is one of the primary barriers between English learners and reading comprehension, resulting in diminished achievement for these students. Four high school ESL students whose first language is Spanish participated. The study measured the impact of teaching students morpheme knowledge by utilizing words from class readings and employing word generation mini lessons that incorporated students' knowledge of morphologically related English words as well as Spanish cognates. The impact of games, anchor charts, and word study notebooks were also explored. The study utilized mixed-methods research, including the following data sources: word knowledge pretests and posttests, student attitude surveys, student interviews, a teacher interview, and a researcher journal. It was found that the morphology lessons improved students' general academic vocabulary, especially when connected to high-interest informational texts. In addition, anchor charts and games supported learning and student engagement.

About the Governor's Teacher Network

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The Governor's Teacher Network (GTN) was established by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, in partnership with the NC Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI). This initiative, funded by the state’s Race to the Top grant, provides a statewide platform for teachers to share their best work around instruction and professional development and help advance Race to the Top (RttT) funded educational remodeling efforts across the state.

Through the GTN, approximately 450 outstanding teachers from across North Carolina were selected to serve for one year as instructional and professional development experts and facilitators. Network teachers remained in their current roles but worked to gain a deeper understanding of the State's RttT-funded work in one of two "pathways," both related to the establishment of Home Base.

In Pathway 1, teachers created professional development sessions and materials (face-to-face, webinars and/or online content) to address classroom instructional needs and increase the PD offerings in the state-wide Professional Development system in Home Base. Projects were developed from action research performed in participating teachers' classrooms. This wiki represents the product of that action research and professional development.